The Public Accounts Committee needs to know its limits on the penalty points saga

Expenditure oversight body only muddying the water in an already murky debacle

 Commissioner Martin Callinan: attended the PAC with a delegation of senior officers for a five-hour grilling on the penalty points issue last week.  Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Commissioner Martin Callinan: attended the PAC with a delegation of senior officers for a five-hour grilling on the penalty points issue last week. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Mon, Jan 27, 2014, 06:51

The Public Accounts Committee has been very active of late. Four weeks into the New Year it has tackled the Central Remedial Clinic’s funding, Rehab, expenditure at Irish Water, top-ups on HSE-approved salaries across the health system and allegations of Garda corruption concerning penalty points.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan was in with a delegation of senior officers for a five-hour grilling on the penalty points issue last week.

The central allegation is that members of the Garda have been abusing their discretion to terminate penalty points incurred by speeding motorists.

The matter has been raised by two whistleblowers; a retired Garda member and a man still serving as a Garda sergeant.

Committee chairman John McGuinness told Commissioner Callinan that the committee had decided to extend an invitation to the serving Garda sergeant to appear before it this Thursday.

Commissioner Callinan voiced his opposition, saying the committee was not the appropriate forum for hearing criminal allegations from a serving member about his colleagues.

He has since sought legal advice from the Attorney General on the possibility of having the hearing blocked, most likely via High Court injunction.We have been here before of course.

In 2001 the High Court - in a ruling later upheld by the Supreme Court - found that an Oireachtas inquiry did not have the authority to examine the shooting dead by gardaí of John Carthy in Abbeylara. It concluded such inquiries did not have the power to make findings adverse to the good name or reputation of citizens.

More recently, in 2011 the former senator and TD Ivor Callely won a Supreme Court challenge to a Seanad Committee investigation into his expenses. It had acted outside its powers and had not granted Mr Callely the right to defend himself. And just over two years ago a referendum aimed at strengthening the scope of Oireachtas inquiries was defeated.

In recent days Clare Daly TD, who has made much of the running on the penalty points issue, expressed her concern that the committee members were simply not knowledgeable enough to get to the truth.

Commissioner Callinan has pointed out time and again that the documents supplied by the whistleblowers to PAC offer only a snapshot of penalty points cases. The paperwork does not include, for example, any correspondence sent to the Garda by motorists outlining the arguments for having their points terminated.

It means only those with full access to Pulse will be in a position to review the decision making in each case and so properly investigate the penalty points claims. There are only two bodies who enjoy that privilege, namely the Garda and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

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